August 18, 2009

Smell the Gardenias


John is a good friend who owns a successful ad agency in the San Francisco Bay Area. At lunch recently we were talking about feeling trapped by the very thing you create – your company, your lifestyle, the crazy pace of advertising – and he shared an experience we can all learn from.

He told me he used to get in the office most mornings before 7. But now he’s not as religious about being the first one in. 9:30, 10:00. . . what’s the difference?

Of course nobody’s going to fire him for coming in later because he’s the Boss-Man, right? But you might be surprised how tough it can be exercising the privilege of rank.

For most it’s a see-saw of guilt and indulgence: one day you hate the damn place and say screw it, I’m leaving early or not coming in at all tomorrow. . . And the next you can’t get enough and find yourself working around the clock and loving it.

The problem is those tapes in your head. Gotta be busy, work at least as hard as anyone else, can’t leave when others are frantically rowing the galley ship like in Ben Hur. Those old tapes, by the way, were laid down by parents and teachers who believed that “hard” work was the only way to sanctify your life and succeed. What about “smart” work?

Over the years I’ve known hundreds of men and women who ran their own ad shops. And none of them should have any reason to feel guilty about coming in a bit later, taking Fridays off, or clocking fewer than 40 or 50 hours a week.

Because it’s not about having “earned” it. Or about what’s “fair” in anybody else’s mind.

No, it’s about taking your life to a place (I call this leading your life) so you CAN take the time you want to do other things besides just going to the office every day; it’s about being smart enough to realize you don’t have to make an appearance 6-plus days a week; it’s hiring and nurturing good people to do the things that once only you could do. Now that’s “smart” work.

And don’t tell me you don’t have people you trust enough to do things right. You either haven’t taught them well or you’ve got the wrong people. Fix it!

Well back to my pal John. Lately he’s been giving himself the pleasure of enjoying a second cup of coffee on his terrace with his wife instead of being first to the office.

He’s learned to put the drama of running an ad agency in abeyance every few mornings so they can sit enjoying the view, sometimes chatting a bit, sometimes just being quiet near each other.

One morning his wife noticed a gardenia blossom in full bloom nearby. She gently harvested it and sat there with it at her nose, drinking in the fragrance. She handed it to John to do the same – to take a moment to absorb a gift of the universe which, like so many other seemingly small things in a hectic life, are often overlooked. They linger for a while. . . You get the picture.

More often now John comes in a little later. He’s learned not to offer excuses to his staff –  if he wants to leave during the day, he just leaves. Most probably think he’s off to another meeting.

I think John’s one of the smartest people I know in the business, don’t you?



  1. Thank God he isn’t handsome too.


    Comment by Drew McLellan — August 20, 2009 @ 9:29 pm

  2. Oooo – definitely an insider’s comment.

    Comment by Joe — August 20, 2009 @ 11:34 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: